Criticism, Opinion, and Contemporary Art

OK.  I have difficulty appreciating contemporary art.  I had difficulty appreciating disco music.  In the mid ’70’s it was disco or punk.  I had difficulty appreciating both the Bee Gees and Sid Vicious.  So in the mid ’70’s, I opted out of pop music.  For musical enjoyment, I retreated into the world of classical music in my protest/hermitage from pop culture.  And in large part, I’m opting out of contemporary art.  This includes conceptual art, much poetry, and fiction.  I can bear some contemporary music, probably because of all the arts, I understand music best.  But even in “music,” conceptual art such as John Cage is past my willingness to try to like.

Innovation gives birth to new art forms.  In high school, I didn’t understand Jackson Pollock, but like him now.  Fair to say, though, I wouldn’t hang his work in my condo.  My parents didn’t like rock music–disco or other any other form.  But I would argue that rock pushed an envelope that needed to be pushed.  And I’ll say that some classic rock is great in a pop sort of way.  I certainly wouldn’t want a world with only Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., and Frank Sinatra.  So whatever contemporary art thinks it’s doing, it may be advancing the arts.  (Isn’t that generous of me?)  Few appreciated the Impressionists in their day.  But they did the art world a great service in moving painting beyond Gustave Moreau.  Maybe there’s something in the art that came through town which consisted of folding chairs interspersed with speakers through which a dreamy woman spoke about her dream of crows dying.?

A while back, I thought that my ideas about art were bona fide criticism.  I thought that my understanding of art constituted a critical stance and I thought that others should heed my critical positions.  But I now see that as ego.  My critical stance is really opinion.  I’ll validate my opinion that much in contemporary art is not worth my time.  But I won’t say that it’s bad art.  All I can say is that I don’t like it, don’t get it, don’t wish to take the time to get it.  What passes for art today may well be advancing forms that the children of my generation will love.  Or it might be like disco, and die out.  I don’t know.  Don’t think anyone can know.  What I can know is that my position is opinion.  I’d like to think it critical theory and call down the Harpies of the art world on everything I don’t like.  A few months ago, I would have.  Now, call it humility, maybe, but my preferences are mine alone.  Which frees me up to shrug off what I don’t think deserving of my time.  And to laud those who are doing things I don’t get.

Brokering Truth

Brokering Truth

With Russia’s intentional misinformation campaign through social media, and with news stations becoming mouthpieces for politics, it is now imperative for we, the people, to become intelligent consumers of truth.

These days, anyone, myself included, can post opinion, fact, falsity, or truth on the world wide web, on web pages, on social media—Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram.  And readers can go to any site and read what’s on it.  And the credulous will believe anything they read.

I’m olding now, and things were different for a good portion of my adult life.  There was a time before the internet.  There was no Wikipedia, rather, there was the Encyclopedia Britannica; there were no web postings for information, rather, there were books.  There was considerable advantage with these old-fashioned methods of learning.  The articles in Encyclopedia Britannica were written by world authorities on the subjects in it.  The information that one would read in Encyclopedia Britannica was reliable.  Today, anyone can post on Wikipedia, expert or not, informed or not, opinionated or not, vicious or not.  When we needed deeper knowledge, we would need to read books and research.  In order to publish a book, the author needed to go through an editor, or a review process.  Academic books go through a committee of peers, or experts on the subject.  Not just any Joe can publish on university presses, so the information we would obtain was fairly reliable.  When we would discuss ideas or information, often the question, “What’s your source?” would be fired at us.

Now we need to consider the source more carefully than ever before.  The efforts of Russia are not only to spread misinformation in order to favor a given political candidate.  What Russia is trying to do is to destroy the notion of truth itself.  They want us to think that there are no facts out there, that no news is reliable, that all information is only opinion.  News stations are becoming vehicles for partisan politics.  Some networks are putting out lies, and obvious propaganda.  And they are calling it news, which it is not.

But there are facts.  There is truth.  It is now incumbent on we, the people, to care about truth and to sift through the mass of media to discover fact and truth.  We need to consider the source.  We need to be skeptical.

I grew up skeptical of everything.  I thought everyone was trying to sell me a bill of goods. This was a character flaw I needed to overcome.  But doubting until convinced is a good method to employ now when sifting through media.  The fact is, some media sources are indeed trying to sell us a bill of goods.

Skepticism can lead to sincere inquiry and the quest for truth, for fact.  The enemies of truth want us to give up, to believe that everything is opinion and that anyone’s opinion is as good as anyone else’s.  When it comes to black holes, the late Stephen Hawking knows more than me or my girlfriend.  When it comes to brokering information, the Encyclopedia Britannica is more reliable than Wikipedia.  When it comes to politics, an actual film of a politician speaking, including the US President, is more reliable than what Fox News, or any other broker of information says he says.  World stability may well depend on we, the people, arming ourselves with sound research techniques.  I’m going to turn religious now.  If we persist in skeptical searching for fact, for truth, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32).